Tuesday, May 24, 2022

I've always dreamt of my own home.

This is a common dream (aka the American dream). In my house, I would grow a vegetable garden and plant fruit trees and native plants. I would have a compost bin full of rich soil in the backyard and water barrels beneath the gutters. I am thirty-one now and the dream has evolved. It's a little less romantic but now I would like to have a house that is well insulated, where air leaks are sealed, where I can electrify everything and power the house with solar.

The idea would be to live without harm, to live in relation with the earth's limits. It's a goal that probably stems from deep-seated anxiety or Catholic guilt. It's also a goal that just makes me happy.

I've been intrigued by homesteading since I was young, and now it's evolved more into a passion for green building. Last year in the pandemic, I learned about R values and building science in Martin Holliday's Musings of an Energy Nerd (I like the idea he spurred of the "Pretty Good House"). This year, I have found myself watching webinars (!) in my free time on green building: here, here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, I am a renter. A renter who finds herself moving quite a bit, who hasn't yet figured out where to put down roots and grow that vegetable garden.

The key thing I tend to forget when I am thinking about this dream is the financial part. All of this is fun to daydream about, but the reality is that it's expensive. Home prices have skyrocketed in the last few years in places I would like to live and so if I am ever able to afford a house, I most likely will not have money left over to pay for an induction stove, a new heat pump, electric water heater and solar panels.

This is the reality of most all homeowners though, I imagine. Home repairs are costly and done over time. I'm not any different.

The thing is, even if I were to finally have a house of my own and in time, convert it to an energy-efficient home where I grow my own food (with the house being an engine of production, rather than an engine of consumption), I would still only be a drop in the bucket. The house would be personally satisfying but in reality, it would just be one house with a smaller footprint when what we need is everyone to reduce that footprint on a national scale.

This point has been made and argued a million times over. Do individual actions make a difference? And the most satisfying answer I have found to this question is from an interview with writer Eula Biss. The interview, interestingly enough, is about vaccines but it is also about how public health has a lot of commonalities with climate change too.

 "There's this amazing fact that's a little mind boggling to me," Eula Biss says. "You're more likely to catch an infectious disease if you're a vaccinated person in a totally unvaccinated community than if you're an unvaccinated person in a totally vaccinated community." Pause. I'll let you read that over again. "Vaccination is not all that effective if only one person does it, but it's incredibly effective if nearly everyone does it."

"The challenge of vaccination has some interesting commonalities with the challenge of addressing climate change," she goes on to say. "I was in South Africa last year, when Cape Town was approaching Day Zero -- they were going to run out of water entirely. But Day Zero didn't happen, because the city so effectively reduced their water usage. And that was because of collective action. People were not flushing their toilets, or were flushing them every seven to nine uses and using reserve shower water to flush." 

"One person doing that doesn't actually make a difference at all, right? Like I can not flush my toilet, and it will have zero effect. Just as one person vaccinating really doesn't do anything meaningful for disease worldwide. But everyone in a whole city not flushing their toilets has a real, measurable effect."

The ah-ha moment is that individual actions work when they're done on a collective scale. Like vaccines! Like masks! And well, yes, I know... it's a bit sad to see how that message resonates with a portion of the American population.

Policy changes are not as exciting to talk to about as house buying but they do give me hope. They feel like concrete steps toward the collective action we need. Since delving into environmental activism four-plus years ago, I have seen real changes happen, and they've all happened from policy (from the government regulating, subsidizing, and incentivizing behaviors).

I've witnessed a community in Millcreek, Utah pack a city hall room, sit through multiple city hall meetings, and demand that their legislators commit to go 100% renewable by 2032 (the legislators after some time, said yes). I have witnessed a coalition of cities in Utah sign a bill that demands that Rocky Mountain Power powers their municipalities with renewable energy by 2032. I have seen solar farms installed, finally, because of this work.

In my home state of Illinois, I have seen legislation (first the Future Energy Jobs Act and now the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act) bring solar to a state that no one would ever think would be a great candidate for solar. These bills seem ineffective, but they are not. Now that I am back in Chicago, I see solar everywhere thanks to the incentives put in place from the new legislation, and when I left here four years ago for Utah, that was not the case.

This fall, I spent my time calling my senators to pass Build Back Better, the climate legislation we need on a federal scale. It is still sadly stalled, DOA because of one man, and the loss is unbearable. The hard part about this work is, we have to rely on people in power, rather than just focusing on our own self. That means I have to show up to community meetings. I have to call and write and sign petitions to hold people to account (wouldn't it be nice if getting them to work in our best interests wasn't so hard?)

Living within the climate space, I am constantly reminded that we have about ten years to turn this ship around, and the reality is that it might take another year to get a down payment ready. But the really interesting thing to me is that because I haven't been able to put my focus and attention into caring for my own home, making the changes I want to see in my own dwelling, I have had to look for another outlet. I had to channel that energy somewhere, and so in the past few years, I channeled it into activism.

When I look back, I actually find that I have been more effective as an environmentalist as a renter, than a homeowner. Because as a renter, I had no choice but to focus on my community rather than my own plot of land.

Social media loves the individual action.

I follow a zero-waste brand online and while I don't knock the movement, scrolling past the posts do make me squirm a little. There is a call to buy a lot of trendy, reusuable things and underneath it all, a sense that that alone will save us. This type of environmentalism makes me uneasy but I do get it. It's easy to glamorize. It's shiny and speaks to a side of ourselves that I don't think will ever fully subside. I'm human and a very imperfect environmentalist. I like things too.

While focusing on lifestyle changes can be productive, the posts mainly make me want to scream because they put the onus on individual choices and fail to mention anything remotely political. The world will change, I thought, not when we focus on lifestyle choices alone but when we spend some of our energy collectively pressuring the government and corporations to stop pursuing destructive and unsustainable practices.

And this (unfortunately to say) is hard work.

I thought of this a lot when I was reading Jia Tolentino's "Trick Mirror" this summer. While reading, I realized that the tendency to glamorize the individual action and downplay collective organizing has been done in the feminist space as well.

In her essay, "The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams", Tolentino talks about girlbosses and what she calls "the social media scam". She investigates the power women portray on social media and writes, "A politics built around getting and spending money is sexier than a politics built around actual politic."

"[With white feminism], instead of expanded reproductive protections and equal pay and federally mandated family leave and subsidized childcare and a higher minimum wage, we got the self-congratulatory empowerment feminism that corporations can get behind... We got a bottomless cornucopia of privatized non-solutions: face serums, infrared saunas, wellness gurus like Gwenyth Paltrow."

It made me laugh at the time but it's also true. We have serums (sold by women so feminist) instead of subsidized childcare. Great. When I go online, I'm often sold something, at times it will even be sold as being aligned with my feminist or environmentalist values. Less often will I go online and see actual political action (though depends on who you follow).

Jia Tolentino puts it succinctly: "The problem is that a feminism that prioritizes the individual will always, at its core, be at odds with a feminism that prioritizes the collective."

This line made me think of my dream of the house. I know, it's okay to dream. It's okay to want to house, but I remind myself often, an environmentalism that prioritizes the individual will always be at odds with an environmetalism that prioritizes the collective. In other words, if I really want to see our way of life drastically change and shift toward a more sustainable model (and I do!), I won't get it by prioritizing myself alone. I have to think of my neighbor and my community too.

I get it. The reason actual political action or organizing isn't glamorized is because it's hard to glamorize. It's slow work. It's unpaid work. It sometimes leads to amazing victories, but only sometimes.

After Trump was elected, I started getting involved with a local environmental organization and to be frank, the meetings were chaotic. Occassionally, they were a balm. Occasionally they were invigorating, being surrounded by people who cared about the same things that I do but often, it just meant that I spent my free time on Zoom after work and listened to people talk over each other or get sidetracked. And yet, in organizing, I have been able to make bigger changes than I have ever thought possible (see here and here). 

Recently, I read a tweet that said, "The revolution will be imperfect" and it gave me a sigh of relief. Once I realized that activist spaces and organizing meetings wouldn't be perfect, that they wouldn't be optimized and efficient, I breathed easier. It's okay because it's numbers that we need. Organizing is a team project, which I'll admit, is my least favorite kind. But it has to be a team project. There is no other way. We need the most amount of people making the loudest noise possible. 

All of this makes me think of Eula Biss' words once again (I know I am quoting a lot of people here but these thoughts have been swirling around in my head for a while). I keep coming back to a quote from her that has stayed with me since I first read it, that shifted my view on everything in one small paragraph. In her book "On Immunity" Biss talks about a realization she had when reading about the environmentalist Rachel Carson, saying:

"If one feels at least partly responsible for one's own health ... but understands one's body as a complex system linked to other complex systems, including the community and the environment, the task of controlling all the factors that might affect one's health becomes overwhelming."
"Feeling responsible for everything and powerless at the same is a good description, I think, of the emotional state induced by citizenship in this country," Biss writes.    

These words hit me when I read them. Feeling responsible for everything and powerless at the same time is very much my state of being. 

"Our representative democracy endows us with empowered powerlessness. This is a problem of governance, but it is also, as Rachel Carson would suggest, something else. 'For each of us, as for the robin in Michigan or the salmon in the Miramichi ... this is a problem of ecology, of interrelationships, of interdependence.' " 

Ah yes, interdependence. The missing puzzle piece. The thing we don't like to admit. The thing the pandemic and climate change (and the robins and the salmon) keep calling to mind.

Over the past few years, I have found that working on systematic change is an ask that puts me face to face with my own powerlessness. There is no alternative though if I am concerned about my own health or my neighbor's. I am one person living amongst others in an interconnected ecosystem. I am deeply affected by what is beyond myself and so I must look outward, at my environment and my community, but also do so humbly, with, as Biss writes, a sense of empowered powerlessness.

It can be freeing, this realization. That I have power but that power will always be finite. That I can't do it all. That it wasn't designed that way.

All of this to say, I do still hope I achieve my dream one day. A little homestead somewhere with a garden out my door, that will hopefully nourish me even as our world changes. But I know that the house won't save me. I'm self-aware enough to know that if the ship goes down, it doesn't matter if I have solar on my roof or a garden in my backyard, I will go down too. I can't do everything. I'm not all that skilled. 

The interesting thing I've learned now is that I know that the house also won't save us. That can only be done in community, through very banal things like legislation and policy and incentives on a national level. 

So yes, I will garden, but I will show up for the larger struggle too. Here's to hoping (and doing and resting and playing too).

Thursday, April 1, 2021

I know that the last thing anyone wants to do is relive the last year but I wanted to make a photo diary of the past year just for my own records, in case my hypothetical future child ever asks what it was like living during the pandemic. It's lengthy and all over the place but oh well, here it goes...

March 7, 2020: My partner and I go to Moab with a few friends for the weekend to camp. It is our last trip before lockdown, though we don't know that at the time. Southern Utah starts to warm up in March, and so we go down for some seventy-degree weather and sun. It ends up being violently windy at night and our tent stakes fly out of the ground at night so we have to retreat to our car to sleep, but it is still a great trip.

At night, we chat by the bonfire with our friends and talk about the coronavirus, almost joking when we talk about it, thinking it is just a news story that will eventually go away. Our friends say that they booked cheap flights to Europe for the fall, taking advantage of the low prices due to the coronavirus scare. We think, wow, great idea, wish I had done that, having no idea that we would all be in lockdown in one week. Spoiler alert: my friends never go to Europe in the fall.

March 11, 2020: I go in for my second carpal tunnel surgery after the Moab trip. Turns out, I get into surgery on the last day possible. The day after my surgery, the hospital makes the call to shut down all elective surgeries for the foreseeable future due to Covid. I am lucky. My second and last surgery is done and not pending overhead for months while we wait, not knowing when things will open again.

March 13, 2020: I don't know exactly when Justin and I decide to self-quarantine but it is a few days before there is a state-wide alert. Justin being the internet / news junky that he is turns to me one night in bed and says, I don't think you understand. I think this is going to be a huge deal. I can't even comprehend it so the whole time, I read the news and think surely this will fade away. It isn't until Justin looks at me in bed and says those words that it hits me. This is real. We stock up on groceries, go into a self-quarantine and a few days later, the country follows.

March 18, 2020: In our first week of lockdown, Justin and I wake up to the whole house shaking. Half-awake, I think, okay this is either an earthquake or the world is ending. Turns out it is an earthquake. One of the largest to hit Salt Lake City in thirty years.

We run out of our house in our pajamas and talk to our neighbors in disbelief. We ask if they are okay, and then quickly take a step back realizing that we need to social distance. A pandemic and an earthquake hit us in the same week, and everyone's nerves are rattled. I continue having to brace myself, taking deep breaths as we feel various aftershocks over the next week.

March 18, 2020: After two weeks of rest from surgery, I go back to work. Instead of going back to the office, I set up in our spare room because my company has gone fully remote.



For the first few weeks of quarantine, I stay sane by going on daily walks. Spring is my favorite time in Utah. First, spring bulbs start popping up, new ones each day, and then little by little, the neighborhood gardens start flourishing. I go on walks every day, looking at the bulbs and budding trees like they are my friends, my company. I look for them each day, take pictures, record their growth. They comfort me.

Like everyone else, I start zooming with all of my friends, even friends from Honduras I haven't spoken to in years. I have a deep desire to see how everyone is doing, to make sure everyone is okay. My family and I text more than we ever have. I live in fear that my parents will get the virus, as we start to learn that it is most dangerous for older adults. It feels incomprehensible and also, almost inevitable. I feel sick that I am so far away but I know there is nothing I could do even if I were close.

I order a lot of books to pass the time. Justin and I's lives become quiet and everything feels scary, especially having to go out to go to the grocery store. When I come home, I feel safe and lucky that I am quarantined with someone I love. I have more time than I ever have.

April 1, 2020: Just a few weeks after quarantine, I find out that my childhood friend's dad caught coronavirus and passed away. It is the first case that hits me personally. My friend's dad hadn't been in good health since I was in middle school but it is still tragic. I find out the news online during work and can't concentrate the rest of the week.


April 10, 2020: A few weeks after hearing about my childhood friend's dad, I receive a text from my brother saying that my grandma has Covid. My grandma's nursing home is locked down, but Covid still makes its way in. She passes away a few days after contracting the virus on Easter Sunday.

In a way, I'm not shocked to hear the news of her passing. She had been close to passing away a few times in the previous year but always managed to keep going. The circumstances make it hard though. Since her nursing home is locked down, my grandma hadn't had visitors in a month, and I'm sure she couldn't understand why due to her Alzheimers. My mom and her siblings aren't able to see her before she passes, aren't able to say goodbye in person, aren't able to be by her side in her last moments even though the nursing home is just minutes away from where they live.

My mom, her siblings and a few nieces and nephews gather outside for her burial and then go over to my aunt's house to celebrate afterward. The rest of the family who lives out of state avoids flying in to say goodbye since it would be too risky. I have ice cream in my grandma's honor because there was nothing she loved more than ice cream, and I walk around the neighborhood looking at the spring bulbs and feel her presence. She loved the spring.


April 15, 2020: I read Eula Biss' book On Immunity, a book about vaccines and contagious diseases and community care. It is an eerily relevant book that stays with me all year.

Home office in March

Home office in May

April – May: I continue going on a lot of walks, watching the neighborhood gardens grow. I work from home. I work out on Youtube. I cook dinner almost daily. I see my therapist virtually. I facetime with friends. I watch a lot of TV. I try to figure out what to do with my thoughts now that I can't plan ahead. All of my plans have been wiped clean. I can't plan the upcoming summer, much less the next year or more. It is all a blank. It is a very new feeling. I have nothing to work towards, nothing to look forward to. I have a panic attack at one point and Justin talks me down as we sit outside in my backyard.

I realize that this is the first time that I have ever had a free schedule. No more Sierra Club meetings, no more writing group, no more going to the gym, no more in-person therapy sessions, no more Whiskey Wednesdays, the weekly gathering a group of our friends' host. It's the best thing that comes out of Covid. I had overbooked my schedule for years.

As much as I love being at home, I am busy most nights of the week. There had not been a week where I had nothing on my schedule for years. All of a sudden, I am home seven nights a week, and it feels freeing. I need it, and I don't think that I would have ever given it to myself deliberately. I try to hold onto this idea and hope that even after the pandemic, I will keep my weekday nights clear and sacred.


May: Amidst the pandemic, I also struggle with my own chronic pain after surgery. After two carpal tunnel surgeries, I go right back to work after a short leave. I go back to typing eight hours a day, and my hands, arms, shoulder and neck are not happy.

I start monitoring my pain by taking notes of how bad it is each day, trying to see if there are patterns, if the pain is decreasing slowly or staying the same. I often have to stop working in the afternoon to cry and take a break and then go back to work a few hours later.

I am lucky in a way that Covid causes our company to go remote because I don't know what I would have done in the office. I wouldn't have been able to take as many breaks or cry when it became unbearable. Even though being at home helps, I am still in daily, chronic pain, and I don't know what to do.


June: The news of George Floyd makes waves around the nation, as well as the news of Ahmed Aubrey and Breonna Taylor. My friends and I start texting every day as we read the news and our stomachs sink. It's all any one talks about when we are facetiming or on social media and pretty soon, protests start popping up around the country. The first protest in Salt Lake turns violent. Justin and I don't go but at night, we hear helicopters overhead. We turn on the news and see footage of protestors in Salt Lake burning a police car. We check Twitter and see police across the country responding to protestors aggressively, in paramilitary gear. My downstairs neighbor is a journalist for the local NPR station and leaves the house to run to the protest. We wave to her as she leaves, knowing she is going to have a busy night.

The next week, Justin and I go to a BLM protest near the capitol. It's the largest protest I've ever seen in Salt Lake City. I have gone to protests here for the climate or when children were separated from their families during the Trump administration. Other Trump-related atrocities too, but this was by far the biggest crowd I had ever seen gathered. It is encouraging, illuminating.

I do freak out going into a crowd during a pandemic. We don't know at this time that the possibility of catching Covid outdoors is low. At one point, I'm standing next to a girl who sneezes, her mask down around her neck. I freak out inside. I walk around for the next week nervous but I'm okay. 

Like most everyone else in the country, I start reading, learning more and more about anti-racism and how much our police is funded. The whole country has recognized for a second what black people in America go through. Mindsets start changing, though we know all of this newfound knowledge might fade, people might go back to their normal routine but for a second, everyone is tuning in, speaking up, learning, acknowledging the racism inherent in our country and systems. Those weeks, that month, that summer, the year will stay with me forever, I hope.


June 13, 2020: It's the weekend of my sister's bachelorette party. I am supposed to go to New York and stay at a beach house with all of her girlfriends but we have to cancel the get-together due to Covid. We have a virtual bachelorette party instead. We play various bachelorette party games and have a painting session. It is hilarious and fun and also, a bit sad that it can't happen in person because I would have loved to spend a weekend with her closest friends.

Covid throws a huge wrench in my sister's wedding plans. Her and her fiance planned on getting married in July of that summer. Sadly, they call off plans for the big wedding early on for safety reasons but they still want to get married, preferably with immediate family around. It is tricky to plan though since our families live all over the U.S. and the risk of two families traveling from various states meant that one person could potentially bring Covid to the gathering and get us all sick.

My sister struggles with the decision for months. Even if the gathering is small, the thought of someone you love catching a life-threatening disease at your wedding is the most stressful thought to have, especially on a day that is supposed to be joyous. A few weeks before my sister and fiance's ceremony, they decide not to bring the immediate family together. Instead, they will get married with a pastor and two witnesses present.


My sister and her husband get married on July 11th in a beautiful outdoor ceremony in Kentucky and the family watches on Zoom. Justin and I get dressed up, order food from a fancy restaurant, drink champagne and tear up as we watch.

June 2020: Like a lot of people, I start to pick up hobbies in the pandemic. For me, that means going down the rabbit hole of gardening and sustainability projects. I start watching YouTube videos about permaculture, which leads me to buy "The Suburban Micro Farm" and "Gaia's Garden" and "Musings of an Energy Nerd". I read all of them and go on Zillow for hours and dream about my one-day home where I can retrofit it into a net-zero home and homestead in the backyard.

In the midst of this rabbit hole, I get an email from an urban agriculture non-profit in Salt Lake City. They are looking for volunteers to help tend backyard farms. I sign up and for the first time that year, I have something on my schedule again. One day a week, I travel to someone's backyard in the city and work on their garden, apprenticing with a project leader from the non-profit. We are both masked and outdoors so I feel safe, and I start growing my very first vegetables.

June 19, 2020: Justin and I take our first trip for the year since the pandemic hit. Airplanes, hotels and vacation rentals all seem questionably unsafe at the time so we decide to only take trips where we can drive and camp, never going indoors in a public space except quick trips into the gas station. We decide to go on a camping trip near Flaming Gorge in eastern Utah.

We are lucky to be living in Utah during the pandemic. At this point, all we know is that the safest place to be is outdoors where there is plenty of air circulation. Luckily, that's where we spend our time in Utah. Quarantine feels less hard here since we are able to hike, bike, backpack, camp, climb, kayak or just sit in our backyard, which is not the case for many living in dense cities or with less access to the outdoors.


August 4, 2020: I turn 30! My solo pandemic birthday is not exactly what I pictured when I thought about turning thirty. I always wanted to do a trip with my girlfriends as we left our twenties and collectively turned thirty but alas, that was off the table. Instead, I receive some really thoughtful gifts from friends and family. Justin makes me mussels for dinner and I drink white wine and eat a slice of pie and sour gummies for dessert and honestly, am pretty content.



August 2020: I keep taking walks to pass the time after work and spend my nights looking at neighborhood gardens. I keep cooking, and for the first time I'm cooking with vegetables I've grown(!).

I start listening to music again. I don't know why but sometime in the past few years, I've reached for podcasts rather than music when I'm doing tasks and I realize the input of conversation and information has been overwhelming. I start to listen to Waxahatchee's album "St. Cloud" on repeat and it makes all of my anxiety go away.

August 2020: After a lot of soul searching, I finally make the decision to quit my job. I have been in chronic pain since my surgeries and can't continue. My boss is nice and understanding and tries to find a way for it to work but in the end, I need to heal.

It's terrifying quitting a job in the middle of a pandemic. The only safe jobs are ones that can be done remotely, on a computer, away from people but I need a job that is active, where my whole body is mobile. I think of getting a job in a grocery store or nannying for the rest of the year to let my hands heal but both of those put me in contact with people and at a higher risk of contracting Covid. I know I'm young and relatively healthy but Covid seems like Russian roulette. It could affect me minimally or give me another chronic health condition, and I was already struggling, working through one chronic issue.

Both my current job and a job out in the world seem to jeopardize my health, just in different ways, but I take a leap and quit. I feel immense relief. Luckily, a week later a friend of mine reaches out to me. He knows someone who is in need of a nanny and takes Covid seriously. I interview and get the job.


September 2020: Justin and I decide to take a trip at the end of summer to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. It's been on our bucket list ever since we moved to Utah. We camp for five days, three of which are in the backcounty. It's incredibly beautiful and ends up being a psuedo-honeymoon as we decide that we want to get married in the fall.

On the last day of our Sawtooths trip, there is a food truck selling cocktails by one of the main beaches in the park. We buy a cocktail and sit in the sand, soaking up the sun, and almost... just almost feel like we are on a real honeymoon.

September 2020: After seeing my sister's backyard zoom wedding / elopement, Justin and I decide to get married too. Just sign the papers and do it. We are excited about the possiblity of bypassing a large formal wedding to do something simple instead. I also, you know, need to get on his health insurance, being that I just quit my job.

In a month, we find an airbnb nearby where we will have the ceremony, and we buy equipment to stream the ceremony to our friends and family online. I buy a few dresses online and luckily find one that I like and get it altered. I go to the hair salon for my only time that year and get a cut and color. I practice how to do an up-do and buy fancy makeup since I will be doing my own hair and makeup. We write vows and hire my boss' wife to take photos.

On the wedding weekend, the internet at the airbnb ends up being terrible so we make the last minute decision to get married in our backyard. We leave the airbnb and drive back to our house to set everything up. It is stressful at the time but it ends up being even more special getting married at our house. The ceremony costs next to nothing, is short and sweet, and perfect in the end. Eloping ends up being the best decision for me, since plans for the big wedding gave me so much anxiety over the cost and all of the details.

On the Monday after the ceremony, we drive to Grand Junction, CO and actually sign the papers (in Colorado, you don't need any witnesses to get married). We pay $30 for the marriage certificate and then get a beer and a meal at brewery after. We eat outside, of course.

October 2020: I start nannying and take a breather after planning a last-minute wedding. On October 1, Trump gets Covid. It's shocking but he gets the best medical attention and then pretends it's nothing.

My friend comes into town mid-October, and we go on some socially distanced hikes together. We get our mail-in ballots in the mail for the upcoming election. Anxiety starts to settle in, even more so than it has already, since we have no idea if we are going to have to live with Trump for four more years. I start writing letters to undecided voters in swing states with the Sierra Club. I hold my breath, waiting for election day.



October 27, 2020: I look on Instagram one morning and see a post from the Utah Sierra Club. One of the staff members, who I worked with as volunteer, has passed away unexpectedly. My heart drops. How? Why? I find out later that day that she had contracted Covid and her prognosis took a turn a day after. After a quick fight with the disease, she passes away tragically.

I'm speechless. We emailed a few weeks ago. She was young, in her fifties. She had children and grandchildren. She was out in the community fighting for Covid relief for those who were struggling with rent and their utilities. She was on social media just days prior calling for mask mandates from the Governor.

The Governor makes a statement about her passing. There is a vigil at the Capitol later that week. When I hear the news, I want to shut everything down. She should be alive, I think. If it weren't for Covid, she would be alive. The pandemic took an angel, a warrior away from us, and I couldn't bear to fully accept that reality. There is nothing that can bring her back. My heart is broken.

November 7, 2020: Election day comes and passes, and we still don't know who has won. In the beginning of the day, Trump is in the lead. I go on a run on election night to get out my anger. I run, yelling under my breath to no one. I'm mad that so many people could still vote for him. Thankfully by the time I get home, Biden has pushed ahead just a little bit.

I wake up Saturday morning after the election and The New York Times has called it. Biden wins the election! I'm overjoyed. I turn on "Oh Happy Day" and start dancing. Justin and I walk through town for lunch and hope to see celebrations. A few cars drive past honking and everyone cheers. It is the greatest relief.

November 22, 2020: Justin and I stay home for the holidays. We take a trip to the desert before Thanksgiving and get some much-needed sun. We mountain bike, Justin climbs, we watch The Wire at night on his phone because we are deep into the series. We "sleep" in our car at night when the desert gets violently windy, again.

November and December hit me hard. Once we have to change our clocks back an hour for daylight savings, it gets dark so early. I break with the darkness. My only sanity over the past year had been being outside of my house, going on runs after work or taking walks. Just getting outside. With the darkness and the cold, that is taken away. I usually enjoy hibernation in winter but not this year. My mental health goes.

I am so sick of TV. I start watching a lot of YouTube.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are quiet. Justin and I stay in Salt Lake, just us. We zoom with our families both days and then make elaborate meals at night. We end up on the couch at night, bored. We are happy that our families are healthy and safe, but we are so, so bored.

January 7, 2021: I check my phone late in the afternoon while nannying. While I was away from my phone, pro-Trump supporters had stormed the capitol. I'm glued to the phone from there on out. I watch in horror as our capital building is overtaken by extremists. Justin and I spend the night scrolling on our phones reading the news. I can't cook, work out, do anything. It's a seriously weird day.

February 15, 2021: Just five months after taking the job, I quit nannying. It's not ideal but there are a few reasons for the decision. Justin and I decide to move home at the end of spring and before we leave Utah, he wants to take the car (we only have one) and go on a sabbatical and climb full-time. It's tricky to do so with Covid but we decide he should go for it. Since he takes the car, I don't have a way to get to work anymore since I work a few towns over but I figure I'll start applying to remote jobs again.

The logistics of nannying in Covid times kept getting murky too. I nannied unmasked, as we decided to pod up with the family but it was hard to navigate. No one was perfect in the pandemic and so there were a lot of times where I was putting myself at risk for low pay and it didn't always feel worth it.

February 15, 2021: Justin starts his sabbatical and leaves for two weeks to go climbing in California. Since Justin is gone and I'm newly unemployed, I decide to focus my full attention on my book and finally finish the thing.

In the beginning of the pandemic, I saw a lot of tweets that said something along the lines of, "Don't pressure yourself to use this time to achieve or produce anything. Just survive." But when you've been working on a novel on and off for seven years and then a pandemic hits and you are unemployed and have nothing to do, well it's probably a good time to finish the novel.

This tweet felt very accurate

When I was nannying, I was only working four days a week so I had one day a week to start putting the finishing touches on the book, and soon I begin to make progress. I used to beat myself up about how long it was taking me to finish the project but now that I was working part-time, it wasn't hard at all. I finally realize that it wasn't my fault I went slowly. I worked full-time and then some, since I had other things going on in my life as well. Once I have an extra day in my week, progress is easier.

Then with Justin gone on a climbing sabbatical, I suddenly have two full weeks I can dedicate to finishing the book. It is grueling but exciting, and I am so glad to be at the finish line. At the end of the two weeks, I finish it. Finally. It ends up being a slim novel, probably a novella really, but ultimately I took something in my head and I put it on paper. It's not exactly what I had envisioned but it's pretty close. I did it. My childhood dream. It's done. Thank god.

March 4, 2021: Justin and I go to Moab again, almost exactly a year from our last trip to Moab before we went into lockdown. We camp and go to Arches National Park to see the Delicate Arch, the famous monument that is on Utah's license plates. It's beautiful.

March 14, 2021: The hellebores start popping up again. How is it spring again? I think. How has a year passed?  With each new bulb popping up, I'm reminded starkly of the start of spring the previous year, when I was a bundle of nerves and anxiety and fear. When staying inside every day felt so bizarre (whereas now it was just normal). When I didn't know what was safe or not, or how any of my family or friends or I were going to fare.

I am lucky. I made it through and so did my family and friends but there were losses along the way. So many families were not as lucky.

When I look back, there are a lot of good things that happened for me during the past year. I got married, went on some beautiful trips nearby, became a better cook, got time back to myself but so much of the year was filled with fear and anxiety. Fear that a loved one would get sick and I would be far away. Fear that I would get sick every time I left the house.

I can't tell you how many times I checked my temperature that year, convinced I was sick. Or how many times I looked up the symptoms of Covid to see if they matched my own. Or how many times I ate or drank something just to make sure my sense of smell or taste were still there. Then there was the lingering anxiety about how the world was handling everything and so much frustration about the lack of unity around science.

The past year wasn't all bad but it was rooted in a lot of fear and anxiety, and I will be so relieved when some of that can fade away.

March 15, 2021: I get offered a dream job. I turn it down. My hands and body are still in excruciating pain. I have to start thinking about a new career. Or at least, I have to spend the next year (or more) doing something different while I continue to heal. My journey with chronic pain and repetitive strain injury continues.

April 2, 2021: I book an appointment for my vaccine. The end is in sight.